Books and podcasts: summer reads

Posted: 04/07/2019


An Economist Walks into a Brothel by Allison Schrager (Portfolio, £12.67, Amazon, paperback) sounds like the first line of a joke. What this book is actually all about is risk: how you can apply the principles of risk used by professionals such as gamblers, military generals and even insurance underwriters in everyday life. Schrager is herself an economist, journalist and co-founder of a risk advisory firm. She explains how she came to be infatuated with the idea of risk, and ponders what it means in all sorts of contexts: horse breeding, making films, fighting wars. The brothel from the title refers to a visit she made to Nevada to find out about risks for sex workers. It led her to ask if it would be worth giving up half your earnings as a prostitute to have extra security. Whether we realise it or not, says Schrager, we all take risks every day. The question is which to take and how to measure them and maximise the chances of getting what we want out of life.

Books_making-of-managerThe Making of a Manager: What to do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo (Virgin Books, £12.99) is a primer on becoming a manager, based largely on Zhuo’s own experience in Silicon Valley. Its premise is that great managers are made – through hard work and practice – rather than born to the role. And it runs through all the key steps involved in becoming a successful manager, from running meetings to making good hires and giving feedback. Zhuo recalls her first encounter as a newly appointed manager with someone who’d been a colleague the previous day, and the unexpected hostility. She recounts her nervousness the first time she interviewed a potential recruit. And she tells how she slowly learned to act the part, and to develop confidence. A perfect read for anybody who’s just been thrown in at the deep end.

Books_great-economistsFresh out in paperback is The Great Economists: How Their Ideas Can Help Us Today by Linda Yueh (Penguin, £6.99). Yueh is a former BBC Chief Business Correspondent and has other heavyweight credentials as a former adviser to the World Bank, the European Commission and the World Economic Forum. The cover endorsements give a further hint of the respect in which she’s held among today’s illuminati – Lord Jim O’Neill, Mohamed El-Erian, Nouriel Roubini, Professor John Kay, et al. What she’s produced is a series of profiles of great names in economics: Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx, Joseph Schumpeter, Milton Friedman, Freidrich Hayek – all men, with the sole exception of Joan Robinson. Yueh explains the philosophy of each and applies their thinking to a key problem of today. What would Karl Marx have said to the question ‘Can China become rich?’. Or Friedman to the poser ‘Are banks doing too much?’. Together, she says, these sages have guided us through a period of growing prosperity, stretching from the Industrial Revolution to the digital age. And she ponders: “Perhaps their insights can help guide our economic future, too.”

Books_moneyless-manFor an antidote to the usual tomes on coming out on top, daring to win, etc, The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living by Mark Boyle (Oneworld, £9.99) is well worth a spin. This is actually a re-issue of the account by former businessman Boyle of his attempt to spend 12 months without money. There’s a lot about eating what’s in season, solar panels, skill-swapping schemes, cuttlefish toothpaste and compost toilets. It’s a story of survival in which the author develops ingenious ways to eliminate bills and live for free. And according to the publishers, The Moneyless Man “will inspire you to ask what really matters in life”. 





Wondery Business Wars
What would a podcast from Twitter be like – 140 characters long, succinct and laden with hashtags? The social media company has dipped its toe in the podcasting waters for the first time with a series aimed at advertisers, helping them to build their brands on its platform. And each episode is 25 to 30 minutes long. This is a fairly well-established format for business podcasts, in which a presenter talks to different companies, presenting their stories as something like case studies. In this instance, the presenter is one of Twitter’s own marketers, Joe Wadlington, and the companies featured include Monterey Bay Aquarium, Dropbox and publisher Simon & Schuster.

Audio Long Reads
The artworld is not quite like any other business. The value of its assets is largely subjective, and its transactions are shrouded in secrecy. How those assets move around the world, arriving on the walls of public museums and institutions, is the subject of How to move a masterpiece: the secret business of shipping priceless artworks, from The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads. Writer Andrew Dickson talks to top curators to learn about the protracted negotiations before art goes on holiday; the battles over conservation; the UK government providing insurance; first-class travel of up to £60,000; and many nervous moments. 

HBR Presents 
The Harvard Business Review is the latest august institution to get in on the act. Its HBR Presents channel is a network of business podcasts curated by HBR editors on topics ranging from the impact of artificial intelligence to iconic business school case studies. Women at Work is a thread featuring conversations about women’s place in the workplace; Dear HBR offers agony aunt advice on workplace dilemmas; and FOMO Sapiens is about leaders overcoming Fear Of Missing Out to choose what they want in work and life.

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